Boston Ballet principal Derek Dunn at age 12 in a variation from Flames of Paris at the 2008 YAGP finals. Courtesy YAGP.

13 of Today's Top Stars Share Their YAGP Photos and Videos

The Youth America Grand Prix New York Finals are starting up again this week, running April 12-19. This year, YAGP is celebrating its 20th anniversary. April 18-19 marks the competition's annual Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala, featuring 13 pros who are also YAGP alumni. We've rounded up photos and videos from those stars' YAGP years and shared them with you here.


Taylor Stanley

First up is New York City Ballet principal Taylor Stanley at age 16. Stanley placed in the top 12 for senior men at the 2008 YAGP New York Finals. From beginning to end, this variation from Coppélia showcases Stanley's flexibility and ballon, but we especially love his at leap at 0:21 (and the audience's collective gasp).

Skylar Brandt

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt has had a long history with YAGP; she took home silver medals in both 2004 and 2008. Here she is in a variation from Swan Lake in 2008 at age 14. Despite her young age, Brandt looks completely in control onstage; her sense of musicality and charisma are on full display.

Tyler Donatelli

Courtesy YAGP

Here's a shot of Houston Ballet soloist Tyler Donatelli at age 13 in a variation from Harlequinade at the YAGP 2010 New York Finals. Donatelli came in first place in the Los Angeles regionals that year, though she didn't place in the Finals. But the following year she came in third in the New York finals, and the year after that she won a silver medal.

Cory Stearns

American Ballet Theatre principal Cory Stearns is serious and stoic at age 14 in this variation from Swan Lake at the 2001 YAGP finals. His performance earned him a scholarship to The Royal Ballet School in London, where he stayed for two years before returning to New York to join the ABT Studio Company. Check out the old school YAGP poster in the background!

Rebecca King

Courtesy YAGP

YAGP is in Finnish National Ballet first soloist Rebecca King's blood; her mother, Shelly King, spent 12 years as the competition's director of operations. Though she grew up competing, In 2007, at age 19, King returned to the U.S. from Ukraine, where she'd be dancing with Donetsk National Ballet, to compete in YAGP once more. She caught the eye of a European headhunter who sent her video to Prague State Opera Ballet, setting her on her current path.

Hee Seo

ABT principal Hee Seo took home the silver medal in 2002 at age 15—see her in a variation from The Sleeping Beauty above. The next year, Seo competed again and won the Grand Prix. Today, Seo is committed to giving back. Four years ago, she created the Hee Seo Foundation to work with YAGP and help young dancers in her home country, Korea. In addition to giving grants and helping place students at company-affiliated schools, Seo teaches free master classes for students all over Korea.

Derek Dunn

Former comp star and current Boston Ballet principal Derek Dunn won the Youth Grand Prix Award in 2008 and gold medals in 2010 and 2012. At the 2012 competition Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch discovered him and offered him an apprenticeship. In his 2016 Pointe cover story, Dunn said that winning YAGP at age 12 opened his eyes. "I discovered how much I loved ballet," he said. "I realized that I am good at this."

Catherine Hurlin

Courtesy YAGP

A pint-sized 11-year-old Catherine Hurlin won the Hope Award at the 2008 YAGP New York Finals. Today, she's a recently promoted soloist at ABT with a long list of roles already in her repertoire. Between the space buns and the CATS-esque unitard, we truly can't get enough of this photo.

Kimin Kim

At age 19, Mariinsky Ballet principal Kimin Kim is fully in command of his technique in this variation from Diana and Actaeon. Kim joined the Mariinsky in 2012, and three years later, at age 22, was the first foreigner to become a principal there. Kim dances with boundless energy here; check out his pass across the stage at 0:46.

Katherine Williams

Recently promoted ABT soloist Katherine Williams took home the Youth Grand Prix in 2003 at age 14. See the young ballerina's precision and focus in the above variation from The Sleeping Beauty. In 2005 Williams placed among the top 12 senior women; she joined ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School the following fall.

Indiana Woodward

Here's a 15-year-old Indiana Woodward, now an NYCB soloist, in a variation from The Nutcracker at the 2009 YAGP finals. A year later she started studying at the School of American Ballet and learning the Balanchine style. Today, the roles of both Sugarplum Fairy and Dewdrop in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker are part of Woodward's repertoire.

Christine Shevchenko

Here we have a 14-year-old Christine Shevchenko competing in YAGP in a variation from Paquita. After training in both rhythmic gymnastics and ballet in her native Ukraine, Shevchenko moved to the U.S. at age eight and studied at The Rock School before joining ABT's Studio Company in 2006. In addition to competing in YAGP, in 2003 Shevchenko became the youngest recipient of the Princess Grace Award, and took home top medals at the Jackson International Ballet Competition and the Moscow International Ballet Competition.

Calvin Royal III

Here's ABT soloist Calvin Royal III in 2006 at age 16 dancing a variation from Swan Lake at the YAGP finals. In September of the same year, Royal began studying at ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, where he trained under the Ethan Stiefel Scholarship until joining the ABT Studio Company in 2007.

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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